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Vertical Integration: This New Way is Actually Old

Some companies have found a different way of maintaining control over the production and distribution of their products. As it turns out, this way is actually about 100 years old. Will automotive aftermarket companies follow suit?

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Some companies have found a different way of maintaining control over the production and distribution of their products. As it turns out, this way is actually about 100 years old.

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A recent Wall Street Journal article points out that companies including ArcelorMittal, PepsiCo, General Motors and Boeing are turning to “vertical integration,” whereby companies control the key aspects of a product’s sourcing, production and distribution. This is different from the early part of the 20th century, where some companies controlled absolutely every aspect of a product’s life.

These companies are employing vertical integration to battle against such things as volatile commodity prices and financial pressure at suppliers, the Journal points out.

Boeing’s step into vertical integration was solidified when it bought a 50 percent stake in a joint venture that makes parts for its 787 Dreamliner jet. The 787 is supposed to fly higher, faster and use less fuel than anything out there. But now Boeing is looking to clamp down on production of the jet, which features space-age parts and all kinds of newfangled technology. Why? Because the company ran into some big problems and it’s pushed back the date the jet was supposed to enter service by at least two years.

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It started when Boeing basically turned the typical production mode on its ear. Instead of having vendors ship parts to a central location where Boeing technicians would put the jets together, contractors were supposed to piece together larger parts of the jet at their own facilities, then ship those components to Boeing for final assembly. But some plans look better on paper than in reality. The contractors had problems getting hold of parts and couldn’t stay on schedule. And Boeing had to contend with production problems created outside the company.

Turning to the tried-and-true “if you want it done right, do it yourself” method, Boeing ended up buying the company that was providing it with fuselage sections. There are still plenty of kinks to be worked out, but the company is addressing those to get this jet up in the air.

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Throughout the automotive industry, there are various degrees of outsourcing, from engines, to undercar parts to doors. But probably no one does it like Porsche, which has a contract with a Finnish company to produce the Porsche Boxster and Cayman. (Not to produce parts for the vehicles, the Finland-based company Valmet produces the WHOLE vehicle.)

Will an aftermarket brake manufacturer buy a steel plant to make its own backing plates? Not likely. But perhaps a larger manufacturer of a multitude of aftermarket products could. It’ll be interesting to see how well companies who go “vertical” will do.
 

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